About Time You Met: the Africa Yoga ProjectBy Angelica Malin
Paige Elenson is the lady behind Africa Yoga Project, a new initiative that helps educate, empower, elevate and expand employability with youth in Africa using the transformational practice of yoga. Their vision is to create opportunities for youth to step into their greatness and become self-sustaining leaders in their communities. We sit down with Paige to discuss her latest partnership with lululemon, and more about how we can all benefit from a little yoga in our lives:
Tell us about yourself – what inspired you to start Africa Yoga Project? What’s your background?
Originally from New York City, I was probably the person that my high school yearbook would have voted ‘Least Likely To Move to Kenya to Teach Yoga’. My life was consumed with the pursuit of success and, in turn, had some reckless failures of that pursuit. I felt empty, lonely and unhealthy. During university, I started practicing yoga. Baptiste Yoga transformed my life and I was compelled to learn how to share that with others.
In 2006, I was on a safari with my family in Africa when I saw some Kenyan acrobats doing handstands in the bush. Although I was told to stay in the jeep, I couldn’t help myself. I got out and showed them that I could stand on my hands too. After the safari, I came back to New York and kept receiving calls from the Kenyan acrobats pleading with me to come back and teach them more. Finally, after lots of thought, I decided to go back. This trip is what changed it all for me. What I didn’t realise was that I would be staying in the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya, where most people live on less than $1 a day. While teaching, I met five teenage girls; Catherine, Anita, Irene, Leah and Hadijah. They called themselves the “Ghetto Girls”, ranging in age from 13 to 19 years old, and were living in a small room made out of iron sheets with one mattress. Each and every day they travelled over two hours to come to my yoga class. They said it made them feel clean, strong and happy. From here, a connection was born with Kenya, and with the amazing young people who were coming to class. After doing some research I found out that one of the root challenges that causes such abject poverty is youth unemployment. Over 80% of youth in Kenya are unemployed. I turned this challenge into our opportunity by forming Africa Yoga Project with Baron Baptiste. We now train girls and boys, like the ghetto girls, to teach yoga as an avenue to education, empowerment and employment.
In a nutshell, what is Here To Be: Africa Yoga Project and this partnership with lululemon?
Lululemon started Here to Be, which is a community-based social impact programme that makes the healing benefits of yoga and meditation accessible through best-in-class nonprofit partnerships. Here to Be was founded on the basis that yoga and meditation offer benefits that are backed by science, and a growing body of research shows that these practices can help build resilience, promote physical and mental health, and create community. This is where the partnership works hand-in-hand with Africa Yoga Project and we are honoured to be the global partner of Here To Be with lululemon. This partnership welcomes me to London for the international documentary film tour, to celebrate the partnership, and to shed a spotlight on the lives of the teachers and students involved at Africa Yoga Project.
How does the Here To Be: Africa Yoga Project help people?
Yoga and meditation has empowered millions of people across the world by supporting physical, mental and emotional health, facilitating authentic personal expression, building supportive communities, and inspiring positive action to contribute to others. Africa Yoga Project’s partnership with Here to Be is one based on this shared belief that yoga and meditation are powerful tools. Working together, the project with Here to Be celebrates lives both on and off the mat and unlocks real change in people and communities in Kenya, regardless of where they’re starting from, giving many people an opportunity at a different life.
How can our readers get involved?
People can get involved and support by first of all, liking and sharing the lululemon Here To Be Africa Yoga Project. This Tuesday (11th), lululemon is hosting a special screening of the short film, followed by a 60 minute yoga class led by myself, with drinks and bites to follow. People can sign up to the event here. People can support the Africa Yoga Project Academy which enables people to lead a life where they can not only survive, but thrive, bringing wellbeing to their communities, and creating a new pathway of financial, emotional and physical health. If people would like to be a part of this critical transformation in the lives of youth in Africa, they can donate to Africa Yoga Project, mentor an Africa Yoga Project Teacher, or they can even come to Kenya for Yoga Teacher Training in 2017!
What does a typical day in your life look like?
There is no typical day. My constants are being the mom of a beautiful four year old daughter, some sort of yoga and meditation practice and being open to the adventure of the day.
What does yoga mean to you? How important is practice?
Yoga is a practice – its an everyday awakening to possibility and change.
What are your top 3 yoga classes in London?
I have two: Lumi Power Yoga and House of Yoga, both Baptiste affiliate studios.
What’s your favourite place for breakfast in London?
I actually have no idea yet. All tips and recommendations are welcome!
The Here To Be: Africa Yoga Project film shares the story of Millie, an Africa Yoga Project teacher and Patrick, an Africa Yoga Project graduate. These two young people have been touched, transformed and inspired by Baptiste Yoga and are committed to leading the change. Millie and Patrick have set a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) of raising $100,000 to support 100 young people from all over Africa to participate in the Africa Yoga Project Academy program in 2017. Please join us this Tuesday at The Boiler House 152 Brick Lanein action of meeting and exceeding that goal!
What’s the first thing you feel when waking up in the morning?
What are your plans for 2017 – what’s next?
We have a groundbreaking Yoga Teacher Training coming up in April 2017 and we intend to train 100 new teachers in Africa. We would love participants to come from the UK to join us. I am also leading my first luxury yoga safari, at Finch Hatton’s.
To celebrate the ‘Here To Be Africa Yoga Project’, lululemon will be hosting a film screening and yoga session led by Paige Elenson. This will be taking place on Tuesday 11thOctober 6.30pm – 9.20pm at The Boiler House, 152 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU. People can book their spot here.